Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Kinsley Is Hurting America Department)
The Rain-Soaked Purple of the White Birch in Spring

"Neighbor, How Stands the Union?"

Ah. Today Daniel Froomkin boosts the journalistic reputation of Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive--which, as everybody in the Post newsroom hastens to assure me, is a very separate operation from the print Washington Post:

Dan Froomkin - Bush Rules - washingtonpost.com: Today's Senate vote on President Bush's detainee legislation, after House approval yesterday, marks a defining moment for this nation. How far from our historic and Constitutional values are we willing to stray? How mercilessly are we willing to treat those we suspect to be our enemies? How much raw, unchecked power are we willing to hand over to the executive?

The legislation before the Senate today would ban torture, but let Bush define it; would allow the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant; would suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus; would immunize retroactively those who may have engaged in torture. And that's just for starters.... The people have lost confidence in their president.... Bush remains deeply unpopular... mistrusted... out of touch....

But he's still got Congress wrapped around his little finger. Today's vote will show more clearly than ever before that... the Republicans who control Congress are in lock step behind the president, and the Democrats -- who could block him, if they chose to do so -- are too afraid to put up a real fight. The kind of emotionless, he-said-she-said news coverage, lacking analysis and obsessed with incremental developments and political posturing -- in short, much of modern political journalism -- just doesn't do this story justice....

This is bad. Very bad. I can't underscore how bad this is. This is our Fugitive Slave Act, our Sedition Act, our Korematsu. This is a danger to our domestic liberties and a terrifying threat to our national security--for its impact on our international standing and on our alliances may be terrible indeed.

The sixteen-year-old is reading about another Daniel: "The Devil and Daniel Webster" is assigned for his English class:

Steven Vincent Benet, "The Devil and Daniel Webster": It's a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire. Yes, Dan'l Webster's dead--or, at least, they buried him. But every time there's a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, "Dan'l Webster--Dan'l Webster!" the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he's liable to rear right out of the ground...

Daniel Webster will certainly walk tonight, for nobody today can say that the Republic is rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed.

But she nevertheless does stand as she stood. Things have been just as bad, and things have been almost as bad in the memory of men yet living.

From Fred Friendly's memoir, Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control, p. 59 ff:

The day after [Joe] McCarthy's reply [broadcast to Edward R. Murrow's attack on him], President Eisenhower held a news conference. After expressing doubt over [whether there had been] any delay over the production of the H-bomb [caused by Communist agents working for the U.S. government, as McCarthy had claimed], the President paid tribute to [Edward R.] Murrow, "my friend," which provided headlines for most afternoon papers that day.

As for the senator's broadcast, I don't believe that anybody [informed], including his own supporters, felt that he had made his case against Murrow, but as Gould of the New York Times observed: "When as much mud is thrown at an individual as Senator McCarthy threw at Mr. Murrow, it is futile to expect that all the debris can be wiped from the public mind.... [McCarthy] huffed and he puffed but Mr. Murrow's house wouldn't blow away..."

That house suffered more wind damage than we realized.... Frank Stanton... [said that] reaction to our two programs had been so negative... some broadcasters had told him that the Murrow "attack on McCarthy" might cost the company the network.... [A] public-opinion survey... CBS had commissioned from Elmo Roper... 59% of the adult population had either watched or heard about the program... 33% of those [who had watched or heard] believed either that McCarthy had proved Murrow was pro-Communist or had raised doubts about Murrow.

I told Stanton that if the poll had been five to one in McCarthy's favor... there would have been even more justification for having done the original telecast. Stanton... was most distressed; there was certainly no suggestion that McCarthy was justified, but he believed that such controversy and widespread doubts were harmful to the company's business relationships...

Even with Eisenhower's explicit but coded support, CBS executives still wished that Murrow had not made his anti-McCarthy broadcast. It would have been nice if Eisenhower had been more explicit and aggressive in his attempts to undermine McCarthy--but Eisenhower was never one to lead from the front where he might take a bullet; he was one to work night and day to get the people at the front the bullets they needed.